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Review: The TCL 20 R 5G is just enough phone

The TCL 20 R 5G is “just enough phone.” No, it’s not particularly interesting or novel, but it gets the fundamentals right.

tcl 20 e 5g standing on desk
Image: Matthew Hughes / KnowTechie
The Good
Cheap
Sufficiently brisk processor
Amazing screen
USB-C, 3.5mm, and dedicated fingerprint port
The Bad
Weak cameras
Limited RAM
Bloatware abounds
7
Overall

TCL is a rising star in the mobile space. Having previously build devices under license for other brands, like BlackBerry and Alcatel, it’s now charging ahead under its own steam, gathering momentum in the fiercely competitive budget sphere. 

Introduced in mid-September, the TCL 20R 5G is arguably the quintessential example of a people-pleasing phone, delivering a robust experience at a wallet-friendly price.

Although its cost-cutting shortcomings are plainly evident, they’re easy to overlook. The TCL 20R 5G is unpretentious, capable, and of incredible value. 

Plastic Fantastic 

When you pick up the TCL 20R 5G for the first time, the first thing you notice is the abundance of plastic that clads its exterior.

It’s not uncommon to see phones situated in the middle-to-low end of the pack opt for metal or glass housing. Far too often, this feels like a delusion of grandeur, with repairability and durability suffering as a result. 

TCL 20 e 5g review
Image: Matthew Hughes / KnowTechie

Plastic backs, as demonstrated by the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE and S21, can be awesome. In the case of the TCL 20 R 5G, I enjoyed the largely flat profile and the robustness of the chassis.

It offers very little ‘give,’ and although it accumulates fingerprints like a particularly careless criminal, didn’t feel liable to slide across the desk as is often the case with silicate-slathered phones. 

At the top of the device, you’ll spot the phone’s three cameras (a 13MP main camera, paired with two fairly useless 2MP macro and portrait shooters).

These don’t protrude much, contributing to its flat profile. Close by is the dedicated hardware fingerprint reader, which was delightfully responsive. 

tcl 20 e 5g on table
Image: Matthew Hughes / KnowTechie

The front of the phone contains its generous 6.52-inch display, which houses the phone’s 8MP selfie camera in a “teardrop” notch.

TCL leans heavily on its display prowess here, and the screen is richer and brighter than you’d reasonably expect for its price point. It boasts a vibrance seldom found within its price bracket, and the 90Hz refresh rate gives it a level of fluidity in day-to-day usage. 

Performance 

The TCL 20 R 5G comes with MediaTek’s Dimensity 700 platform. Built on TSMC’s 7nm node, it provides a decent level of “oomph” for day-to-day tasks and is even capable of running some of the more demanding Android games.

It suffers, however, from the paltry level of RAM it offer. This handset comes with just 4GB of memory, which is at the low end.  

tcl 20 e 5g standing on desk
Image: Matthew Hughes / KnowTechie

Storage comes in two flavors: 64GB or 128GB. For obvious reasons, we’d recommend the latter. If you collect apps and podcasts, 64GB won’t last long, although we appreciated the option to augment the TCL 20 R 5G’s paltry storage with a MicroSD card. 

The phone suffers from a dismally-underpowered set of cameras. The 13MP primary shooter produces grainy, uninspiring images.

Although it comes with two additional 2MP shooters for macro and bokeh-infused portrait pictures, these are too low resolution to be much use.

This feels like a huge oversight, particularly given the proliferation of surprisingly capable 48MP cameras within the low-to-middle of the pack. 

tcl 20 e 5g camera test
Image: Matthew Hughes / KnowTechie

At least the battery, rated at 4,500mAh, is decent. You should be able to get a couple of days of life from a single charge, particularly if you’re conservative with your usage.

Charging comes via the built-in USB-C port, which supports speeds of up to 10W. There’s also a 3.5mm headphone jack, which is a bit of a novelty in 2021. 

The TCL 20 R 5G runs Android 11, although with its own custom skin, and more bloatware than is polite. Bundled apps include Netflix, Amazon, Facebook, and Booking.com. Given the budget price of this phone, it’s hard to grumble much, but it does feel a bit cheeky. 

tcl 20 e 5g android skins
Image: KnowTechie

Conclusion

The TCL 20 R 5G is “just enough phone.” No, it’s not particularly interesting or novel, but it gets the fundamentals right. It’s a 5G phone for people who don’t want to sign up for a punishing 24-month contract or splash out on a more expensive mid-range handset. 

It wins props for its vivid display, solid battery life, unpretentious stylings, and capable processor. It loses points for the bundled crapware, weak camera setup, and pre-installed bloatware, although redeems somewhat by including a 3.5mm headphone jack and hardware fingerprint reader. 

We also note that the TCL 20 R 5G is among the few “Android Enterprise Recommended” phones on the market, giving reassurance to its long-term support in terms of software and security updates.

Right now, the TCL 20 R 5G retails for £180 in the UK and roughly €180 in the Eurozone. From what we can tell, it’s yet to make its way stateside, but a close alternative is the TCL 20 SE, which touts a larger screen and battery, but lacks the included 5G connectivity. 

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Editors’ Recommendations:

Just a heads up, if you buy something through our links, we may get a small share of the sale. KnowTechie was provided a sample unit for the purpose of this review. Click here for more.

The Good
Cheap
Sufficiently brisk processor
Amazing screen
USB-C, 3.5mm, and dedicated fingerprint port
The Bad
Weak cameras
Limited RAM
Bloatware abounds
7
Overall
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